2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   TRAVELOGUE:  TRIP NOTES & PHOTOS
PLUS CAMPING OPTIONS NEAR SILVERTON

TUESDAY, JUNE 22

 
"I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list."
~ Susan Sontag
 
 

I laughed out loud when I found that quote! It fits me well. Problem is, it's also fun to keep going back to our favorite places.

As much as we love the Bighorn Mountains, we're excited about returning to the Silverton, CO area and some even bigger mountains. The San Juan Range is one of our favorite places to stay and play for a few weeks.

We had some concerns about whether we'd be able to get the Cameo out of our soggy site at the Foothills Campground yesterday morning. We were deluged with rain on Sunday afternoon. The dirt and grass under the camper tires were still soaked. Fortunately, the truck tires were on more solid gravel and could "get a grip." Even though we don't have 4WD any more, Jim was able to extricate the camper from the mire and we were on our merry way by about 9:30 AM.


Photo taken of our campsite at Foothills two weeks ago; no flooding then

Once again, we weren't in a big hurry to reach our destination.

We didn't have a specific date or time we needed to arrive in Silverton since we can't make reservations for dispersed national forest camping. Our goal was simply to get here before the hoards begin arriving for the Fourth of July weekend. We're under more pressure getting from Point A to Point B when we have a reservation somewhere. Of course, not having a reservation can be stressful sometimes, too . . .

We've also learned that it's more fun to travel if we allow plenty of time to get somewhere with the camper in tow. We're starting to allow more days in transit, taking more breaks along the way, starting later in the morning, and stopping earlier.

Is that age, experience, or both?

Since we got the Cameo in January we're also keeping our speed lower most of the time. This puppy is heavier than the HitchHiker. At 60-62 MPH we get better fuel mileage and have more control over the rig. You'd be amazed how long it takes to slow down or stop a 15,000-pound camper, even with the best of brake systems. 

OUR ROUTE

If you look at maps of Wyoming and Colorado, you'll see that there are numerous choices of routes between Dayton, in northern Wyoming, and Silverton, in southwestern Colorado. Even though we weren't in a big hurry, we did want to get to our destination in this lifetime, so that limited our choices somewhat. It made more sense to us to use a combination of freeways and two-lane highways instead of only "blue highways" that meander through the mountains of both states.


Eastern approach to the Eisenhower Tunnel

For various reasons, including the number of high passes we'd have to cross, we chose the following route: south on I-90 and I-25 through Casper and Cheyenne to the metro Denver area, west on I-470 and I-70 to Grand Junction, then south on US 50 and 550 to Silverton. We've used all these roads before and know they are fine for travel with an RV in the summer.

It took us parts of two days to travel about 820 miles with the usual stops and no long delays for road construction or traffic accidents.

MILES AND MILES BEFORE WE SLEEP

Here are some details that might help other travelers, particularly (but not limited to) RVers.

Yesterday we drove 413 miles from Dayton, WY to the Sam's Club in Loveland, CO. That included overshooting the exit we were supposed to take because of confusing construction signs. Oops.

We had great weather through Wyoming as we traveled along I-90 and I-25. Even through the small cities of Casper and Cheyenne there was minimal traffic on a Monday. That's one of the nice things about driving through states like Wyoming and Montana -- even though they are summer vacation destinations, traffic is usually light and you can enjoy the scenery without semis blowing you off the road.

The rangelands are very green and somewhat flooded right now, after all the recent rain. We saw numerous antelope in the first hundred miles. It was still early enough in the day for them to be out grazing. We love seeing antelope. Cody even perks up sometimes when he sees them out the window.

We fueled up at the Conoco station in Douglas, WY for 18 less per gallon for diesel than at the Flying J that drives us nuts in Casper. I've written about that particular Flying J before -- no RV lanes and fuel prices 10 higher in the truck lanes than in the crowded car lanes. In our experience this particular Conoco is less expensive than any other service station for many miles in either direction and it has plenty of room for large RVs.


I didn't take any "windshield shots" in Wyoming yesterday;
this one is from today on I-70 west of Denver.

This was the third or fourth time we've spent the night at the Loveland, CO Sam's Club in recent years. The parking lot is big, relatively quiet, has some shade next to trees, and is convenient for shopping. We had great cell phone, internet broadband, and TV reception. Jim also found spotty WiFi from two nearby businesses, including Home Depot.

This Sam's Club has gasoline pumps but not diesel. We needed some gas for the generator so Jim got it there for a good price. He walked over to Home Depot for some supplies while I loaded up on groceries and other items at Sam's Club -- another "free" night at Sam's Club that cost us about $90!

We also shopped at the nearby Wal-Mart on our way back to the freeway this morning; Sam's is two or three miles west of the freeway but worth the detour for us, especially since there's a Super Wal-Mart on the same road. We won't be near a Wal-Mart store for about three weeks unless we go down to Durango or up to Montrose while we're in Silverton -- at least an hour's drive either direction. The nearest Sam's Club is even farther away (Grand Junction). The little grocery store in Silverton is expensive and has a meager selection of items, especially produce, so we try to load up as much as possible before we go there. Ditto for gas and diesel, which are 20-40 more per gallon than other areas.

Can you say "tourist trap?" <sigh> We still love to visit the area.

OVER THE MOUNTAINS AND THROUGH THE WOODS . . .

This morning we left the Loveland, CO area about 9:15 so we could avoid rush hour between there and Denver on I-25. Traffic was heavy in the Front Range and the metro area but moving well in the clear, warm weather. The high in Denver was predicted to reach 93 today. We haven't been in 90+ temps for a while, so we were glad to be in an air-conditioned truck, headed for higher, cooler climes in Silverton!

We took I-470 west to I-70 and began the long ascent out of Denver into the mountains, climbing from about 5,200 feet to just over 11,000 feet in elevation. There is still plenty of snow on top of Mt. Evans and the other peaks along the Continental Divide:

The truck hauled Cammie up to the Eisenhower Tunnel, our highest pass today, just fine:

The long grade going westbound is an easier climb than going eastbound. Of course, since we were going westbound that meant we had to use lower gears and exhaust brakes going down the steeper side. Jim's very good at keeping the brakes cool on long descents, as he proved going down the even steeper and longer Pike's Peak Highway recently.

Still, he though it would be a good idea to take our first break at the rest area above the Dillon Reservoir after several miles of serious downhill driving:

We went through a total of six tunnels along I-70 today. Both the Eisenhower Tunnel and one of the other tunnels are about a mile long. Cool!

After the Eisenhower Tunnel the freeway undulates up and down on its long descent to the west. The scenery is great, with lots of rock formations (below), open rangeland, and verdant Colorado River valleys.


We saw several of these earthen ramps along I-70 but aren't sure what they are for.

I especially love the scenery and terrain through the Glenwood Canyon area east of Glenwood Springs (approximately exits 116 to 133). There are several rest areas along here. Most looked too small for our camper to park or turn around so we didn't stop at any of them. We could see cyclists, runners, and walkers on the bike trails and rafters on the river where it wasn't too rough.


Glenwood Canyon area

We didn't stop for lunch until exit 90 near Rifle, CO. There is a large wooded rest area with plenty of room for RVs and a free dump station with easy access.

Despite all the road construction along the part of I-70 we traveled (why can't they do that in December??), we made good time to Grand Junction. We took exit 37 on the eastern edge of town, a convenient tangent to reach US 50 south. This highway is a fast four-lane conduit to Montrose.

Several times in the past we've gotten good service and prices at a propane place called Hometown which is between the little towns of Delta and Olathe. We wanted to stop there to top off both propane tanks  We discovered the old "Mom and Pop" business was recently bought by a large local corporation (AmeriGas) after "Pop" got cancer. Their price is still good, about $19 for 8.3 gallons, including tax. That's cheaper than we'll find it in Silverton.

The price was also good for diesel at the Western service station in Delta ($2.86/gal. compared to $3.29 in Ouray and Silverton) so we filled the truck tank again there.


I like all the colors of rocks in these hills in the Glenwood Canyon area.

As we pulled out of the gas station, our credit card company called to verify it was us that had made that purchase and all the others in the last couple days! I had notified the company when we left Virginia two months ago that we'd be traveling all over the West this summer but the woman who called me didn't see that on the computer. She apologized several times for any inconvenience (none we know of; no transactions were denied) and "reset" the card. I told her we'd be in several more states before returning to VA. She asked that we call again when we get there.

We're glad the company is somewhat cautious but we're wondering why it took them two months to figure out there were charges several times a week all over the West? I wondered at first if it was a legitimate call, but the woman asked for no personal information. If she had, I wouldn't have given it to her since I wasn't the one who initiated the call. We are diligent about checking online almost daily for any unauthorized or incorrect charges to the account. We'd know before the card company if someone else was using our card.

EDGY

In Montrose we headed south on two-lane US 550 through Ridgway and Ouray to Silverton. The views of the San Juan Mountains are dramatic along this road:


The northern edge of the San Juan Range is prominent from the road south of Montrose.


Passing the lake at Ridgway State Park

Traffic hummed along nicely as the road became more winding and hilly on the approach to Ouray:

Then comes the fun part.

As much as I love to visit the San Juans, I increasingly dread the ride just south of Ouray in the first few miles of the "Million Dollar Highway."

The road begins benignly enough as it switchbacks up the first mountain at the southern end of Ouray and begins its traverse of the canyon:

That's not so bad, even though it's several hundred feet into the canyon (to the right in the picture above). There's enough of a shoulder that I can't really see down into the chasm.

I'm not afraid of heights, just skinny highways with huge drop-offs that I can see down on my side of the road!

I'm not just talking about curves with no guardrails; there are very few guardrails along this stretch of road. What's worse are the places where the cliff has eroded right up to the pavement, like where I've drawn the arrow in the photo below:

Yeah, I'm a wee bit paranoid about places like that!! They make me wonder whether the earth and rocks will give way just when we're driving a heavy RV over a weak spot under the road . . .

It wouldn't be much better if I was driving instead of Jim. I trust his driving abilities. I just don't trust everybody else, especially big motorhomes that are driven by people who aren't used to driving in the mountains and folks who are driving anything fast and might come over into our lane on one of the sharp, blind curves.

I would never want to be on this road, even in just our truck, on a rainy day. Summer weekends are no picnic either, with all the extra traffic.

Every year I get more nervous about this section of roadway. I think it's an aging thing. Or maybe it has to do with my bike wreck last August. I don't feel nearly as invincible as I used to. I just have to not look down into the canyon directly to my right when we're headed south on this road. It's much better going northbound, when I'm next to the mountain instead of the yawning chasm.

Anyway, I survived the edge of the Million Dollar Highway today and I hope I don't have to do it again for another year!

Fortunately the road is not at all scary for most of its way to Silverton. The scenery just keeps getting better and better as you get deeper into the San Juans:

 

UTILITARIAN MATTERS

We deliberately drove right by the road we take north of Silverton to get to our destination campground at South Mineral Creek and went into town to the visitor's center first. Campers can get water from a spigot on one side of the building and dump trash in one of several dumpsters. Donations are requested but not required. We couldn't pay today because the visitor's center was closed by the time we got there.

We filled up our fresh water tank before heading back to the campground. In order to keep the camper weight down, we usually travel with only 1/3 tank or less of fresh water and as little gray and black water as possible. (The Cameo holds 12 gallons of water in the hot water tank, 70 gallons in the fresh water tank, and 62 gallons in each of the gray and black water tanks. Multiply 206 potential gallons by 8.3+ pounds per gallon and you're talking serious extra weight if you haul all that water (etc.!) down the road.).


Part of the Million Dollar Highway:  looking down into the valley where the road will take us next.

This tank will hold us for a few days before we need to start replenishing it with our three six-gallon containers. We'll take the empty tanks with us any time we're heading into town and fill them up, trying not to let the camper tank get completely empty. Tank gauges in RVs are notoriously inaccurate so we partly use our experience as a guide to know how much water is in the fresh, gray, and black tanks.

Earlier on this trip Jim discovered an easier way to get fresh water from the little tanks into the camper tank. Instead of holding each heavy six-gallon tank high enough to let gravity do its thing, he can set the tanks on an empty 5-gallon bucket and use the Cameo's water pump to siphon it in. That sure is a lot easier on Jim.

Our other alternative is to haul the camper into town every few days to put water directly into the tank with our hose. No way! That's too much of a hassle with a 5er or travel trailer. It's more easily done with a motorhome that doesn't have to be hitched and unhitched, but still a hassle even then to put everything away, close the slides, prepare to move, then get settled in again.


Our current campsite

There still isn't a dump station in Silverton except the ones in the private campgrounds. I don't think we've ever used one of those; they charge a hefty fee for folks who aren't staying in their campground. Because so many people dry camp/"boondock" (camp without hookups) in the surrounding area in the national forests, I think the town could bring in some extra revenue if they built a dump station and charged a reasonable $5 fee for boondocking RVers to dump their gray and black water. We always dump before we get there and primarily use the pit toilet in the campground so we don't build up much black waste. We can go a month or more that way without having to empty the black water.

Gray water is a different matter. This is water from the kitchen sink, bathroom sink, and shower. To the best of our knowledge there are no rules against dumping gray water at South Mineral Creek or many other national forest campgrounds we've used in the western states. Nonetheless, we use fresh water sparingly when we boondock because 1) it's time-consuming to fill our small containers frequently and transfer the water to the camper tank and 2) it's not always convenient or permissible to empty the gray water. If regulations say not to dump gray water, we don't.

Either way, when we don't have a sewer hookup we take "Navy showers," use small amounts of water to wash the dishes, and sometimes use paper plates/bowls. We've learned how to go quite a while without having to dump gray water.

OUR NEW NEST

We picked out the same site near the entrance of one of the campgrounds on South Mineral Creek Road that we used the second time we were there last summer (photos above and below):

We were in an adjacent site at first, but moved when we realized someone might crowd right next to us or block us in. No one can do that in the site above; it's a "onesy."

This campground, which is about 6/10ths of a mile off Hwy. 550, gets very crowded over the 4th of July holiday but it is the only dispersed campground in the Silverton area where we can get a Verizon signal for our phones and internet broadband service. There is no TV reception here without cable or satellite service (we have neither) and we have to go into town if we want WiFi. There is one pit toilet that is kept fairly clean by the Forest Service; there are no trash bins so we have to take our garbage to the visitor's center. Because of bears, we have to keep our trash inside the camper basement until we can take it into town.

But it's free, has great views and a lovely creek, and is convenient to town.

Did I mention that it's free?? We like our tax dollars to work for us like this!


Jim and Cody play fetch the stick in South Mineral Creek.

There is a lot more dispersed (free) camping farther along South Mineral Creek Road -- two other campgrounds that are smaller than ours, also along creeks, and numerous pull-offs by the road. The pull-offs are great for folks with tents because they can erect their tents about anywhere in the woods or along the creek.

There is also a paid Forest Service campground about five miles back this road. It has water spigots, pit toilets, and trash bins but no hookups or dump station. You can make reservations at that campground; I don't know the cost. Half of it is closed right now because of recent storm damage.

There are three private campgrounds with full or partial hookups in the town of Silverton. We've never stayed in them but we've decided which one we'd use if we want hook-ups sometime. Because the only Laundromat in town is such a dump (dirty, expensive, half the machines broken), Jim was delighted to discover that we are welcomed to do our laundry at the AB RV Resort at the east end of town even though we aren't staying there. We appreciate that.


Gorgeous view upstream; this is why so many people want to park next to the creek!

Our campground has plenty of available spots right now, although it is more crowded than when we got here last year on June 24. Our first choice is a back-in spot near the creek but we've never gotten that one; it's always been occupied (last summer by our friends Laura and Roy).

We can see that several RVs near us are not occupied; people are obviously staking out spots for the weekend, a practice we haven't seen here before. That's not kosher but the Forest Service doesn't have enough staff to enforce the rule about occupying your camper every night.

Although there are still good spots next to the creek (above) we decided not to camp there this time because it gets so crowded in early July. I'll take some pictures next week to show you the difference between now and then. We've parked there two previous times in mid to late June and liked the location until it got packed.

Another advantage to the spot we have next to the entrance is that we can see who's coming and going from the campground. That can get distracting but we like being unofficial "gatekeepers." (That's a joke, like when we've "supervised" construction projects at Huntsville State Park and Los Alamos from our camper.)

Knowing who's coming and going from the "neighborhood" can be a good thing, though. Campers tend to watch out for each other.


The view from my desk; that's the entrance road to the campground in the foreground.

Someone drove a motorhome into the campground after we arrived, stopped just past our site, and asked Jim if he was the campground host! Jim told him no but answered all his questions. We joked later that he should have said "Yes, that'll be $20 a night to camp here!"

Just like when we stayed at Foothills the last two weeks, we've been in this campground enough times that it feels like home to us. We hope we can stay under the radar for three weeks without getting run out. There are other places to go but we like it here the best. The two-week limit in the dispersed campgrounds hasn't been enforced for several years. A man named Jim who remembers us from previous years is camped across from us. He was in the area all summer in 2009 and the Forest Service did make him move periodically but he was able to stay at least three weeks in each spot. This summer he's relocating on his own about every three weeks and no one has hassled him.


Nice views downstream, too

We also ran into Roy and Laura, ham radio operators from California who we met last year in this campground. They just got here, too, and are staying for only three weeks this time instead of most of the summer like they managed to do last year. They didn't get run out like the other guy did.

We enjoyed visiting with Roy and Laura for about an hour this evening. They'll probably be working communications at a different aid station than us during the Hardrock race but we can see them in the campground as often as we want. We're also looking forward to hanging out with ultra running friends Marcy and John Beard and Bill Heldenbrand when they arrive here to camp soon.

We noted on our way to Silverton that there is very little snow visible in the San Juan Mountains. That's a good sign for our training runs/hikes and for the Hardrock race. Jim and I are both ready to hit the trails tomorrow.

Next entries: exploring new trails and revisiting old favorites

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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